Friday, December 20, 2013

Archie's Pal, Kevin Keller

Homosexuality is a hot button issue in the US. Gay marriage laws and initiatives make headlines, celebrities and faux celebrities find themselves needing to make comments, and it seems everyone has an entrenched stance. Archie entered into this arena in the past couple years with the introduction of a gay character, Kevin Keller. Popular folks like Perez Hilton praised the company for including such a character, organizations recognized him as a powerful symbol, and news agencies seized the story. There was much publicity, but I ask, "Are the comics any good?"

My answer after reading this book is "kind of," leaning toward yes. Kevin adds an interesting dynamic to the group, a new friend to all, a person who can rival Jughead for his eating ability, a young man handsome enough to draw Veronica's attention away from Archie, a companion that makes girl-next-door Betty jealous because he monopolizes her best friend, and someone popular enough to run for class president. One big factor that makes me hesitate about Kevin is that he is sort of a Mary Sue, someone who seems good at everything. But he is just so darn likable still.
-1 for Bon Jovi, +1 for texting
The panel above kind of gives a flavor of the book. It instantly dates itself by making a pop culture reference to a 1980s hair metal anthem, but it is also trying to be in the now with the texting. There are also a number of other gags like this one, pointing out the confusing transition from old to new:
Moms are so silly when they try to keep up.
Kevin is kind of an interesting hybrid himself, a progressive social type who is a military brat and from a pretty conservative family (his mother calls herself a "grizzly mom" at one point) who loves and accepts him for who he is. I find that pretty admirable, that the character is introduced in such a way as a matter of fact. But at the same time, this also strikes me as a pretty conservative, maybe even jingoistic slant to the character.
We've come a long way from "Don't ask, don't tell."
Kevin's ambition to join the military is noble, but at the same time the impulse plays out that he will follow a pretty set path: get in town, get established, run for class president and (spoiler) win, have a first kiss, join the military, and then (another spoiler) get married. This all seems pretty quick to me, especially given that Archie has largely been in high school for the better part of seven decades and has only recently chosen between Betty and Veronica and gotten married (in a sort of alternative future story). Kevin is a potential wild card, but he ends up being one of the most conservative and eventually static characters in the Archie universe. Even his coming out stories, which were fascinating for me to see in an Archie book, were a bit pat and easy for my liking.

Still, I really liked the positive social message in this book that Kevin would be so easily accepted by most, even though there were still those who are bigoted and hateful, here embodied by rivals for class president. My only qualm about their portrayal was that they were so two-dimensional and easily dismissed, like cheap movie villains.
His name should be Dick, but it's not.
Maybe I am expecting too much nuance from a company that has trucked in Americana, conservative messages, teenage romance, and an idyllic suburban life for decades now. It is certainly positive that a character like Kevin has not only found a place but seems to thrive in Riverdale. I like the dynamic he adds to the proceedings, and I also like the tales drawn and crafted here by long-time Archie artist Dan Parent. These stories are jaunty, fun, and well balanced in terms of humor, action, and some measure of social awareness.

And thus ends my look at what Archie Comics is publishing currently. There have been some changes to keep current, catching onto trends of books for YA leaders and also expanding the line to include more diverse characters and story types, but the publisher still has an eye to republishing their classic stories and perpetuating an American nostalgia. I hope you have enjoyed my look at these books!

(On a side note, sorry for the lateness of this entry. Remind me never to do this daily blogging thing during a month with final projects, grading, and so much conference travel. What was I thinking?)

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